Jay Electronica: My World
From Victory mixtape (2010)

DJs Furious Style and Dub’s Victory mixtape of all Jay Electronica joints has stayed in steady rotation since the beginning of the year and one song that I keep coming back to is his tribute to Nas, “My World.” I’m not sure who produced this (prob Jay himself?) but I like how he revisits Ahmad Jamal to create a beat similar-to-but-not-a-duplicate of “The World Is Yours.” And soaking in that vibe made me nostalgic for all the good piano-based beats

To be sure, I’m hardly the first to feel that flavor and while I’m generally not a fan of reinventing the wheel I doubt anyone’s going to raise a fuss over revisiting a few classics.

Since I could literally come up with a hundred songs, I tried to limit myself based on a few ground rules. 1) Acoustic piano, no Rhodes or Wurlitzer or synths. 2) No producer twice (believe me, I could – and still might – just devote posts to the “best of” Primo/Pete Rock/Evidence. 3) I tried not to repeat the same source musician but I don’t know all the sources here and frankly, I got no problem showing Ahmad Jamal more love. I also split the following into two different categories based on the feel of the piano loops – melancholy and lively. Personally, I’m more of a fan of the former (at least these days; call it a consequence of getting older) but I’m not mad at some jaunty piano to keep your heels a’clickin’.

Dilated People: Pay Attention
From Expansion Team (Capitol, 2001)

Hands-down, my favorite DJ Babu-produced track and one of the best things on Expansion Team. I don’t know I never bothered to figure out where this loop was originally from (it’s an Ahmad Jamal sample, natch) but once I finally did, I was even more impressed by the chop job – he’s basically creating a new melody and arrangement out of different snippets from the source material. An exceptionally well-crafted piece of production.

All Natural feat. Lone Catalysts: Renaissance
From Second Nature (All Natural, 2001)

Yup, another Ahmad Jamal loop, this one taken from The Awakening (aka the most sampled piano album in hip-hop history?). Props to J. Rawls, another master of the piano sample, who really picked up on the potential of the source material, using two different parts to construct the track. Lovely collabo here too, between All Natural and Lone Catalysts – this has long been a personal favorite of mine.

Camp Lo: Sparkle
From Uptown Saturday Night (Profile, 1997)

Based on the album credits, it seems as if this isn’t technically a sample but an interpolation of a Cal Tjader tune which makes sense since I never was able to find the original piano loop from the source. Pete Levin’s supposed to be on the keys here and along with Bill Ware on the vibes, the two do a beautiful job of recreating the smooth charm of Tjader’s original.

Group Home: Up Against the Wall (Getaway Car Mix)
From Livin’ Proof (Payday, 1995)

One thing I’ve always enjoyed about DJ Premier as a producer is his willingness to revisit old source material and find multiple uses for them. In this case, the same Young Holt Unlimited album yielded both one of the all-time melancholy piano beat classics (awkward phrase, I know) – “Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers” – but Preem also mined it to craft this moody wonder.

Common: Maintaining
From Resurrection (Relativity, 1994)

Speaking of being so nice, they flipped it twice, No ID took two different parts of MJQ’s “But Not For Me” and turned them into “In My Own World” and “Maintaining” – quite impressive given how different each song feels. Com Sense, No ID and MJQ keep the party live indeed.

Kool G Rap and DJ Polo: On the Run (Untouchable Mix)
From the “On the Run” 12″ (Cold Chillin’, 1992)

This one goes beyond “lively” and straight to “jackammer to your melon.” This is one of the best songs of Kool G Rap’s career and while the original Sir Jinx version was strong enough on its own, the Trackmasters’ remix took things to the next level by using one of the best damn piano funk songs ever recorded, Ray Bryant’s “Up Above the Rock.”

Billy the Kidd (Defari): Say It Twice
From Saloon Music (ABB, 2000)

For a while in the late ’90s/early ’00s, Evidence was digging deep into all kinds of piano loops but he really nailed it on this one for Defari, recording under his Billy the Kidd nom de plume.


The Bamboos: Ghost
From 4 (Tru Thoughts, 2010)

Kings Go Forth: High On Your Love
From The Outsiders are Back (Also @ Amazon) (Luaka Bop, 2010)

Michael Leonhart & The Avramina 7: Madhouse Mumbai
From Seahorse and the Storyteller (Truth and Soul, 2010)

Flowering Inferno: Dub Y Guanguanco
From Dog With a Rope (forthcoming on Tru Thoughts, 2010)

Rakaa: C.F.P.
From Crown of Thorns (forthcoming on Decon, 2010)

Though public awareness for the Bamboos – the foremost of Australia’s deep funk/retro-soul bands – still lags behind some of their British and American counterparts, they continue to churn out releases at an admirably prodigious paste. While they’re now on their 4th album, Milwaukee’s Minneapolis Kings Go Forth have finally just put out their debut LP after putting out some highly regarded 7″s.

I’ll be straight up – neither one of these albums really are what I’d call “my sound.” Maybe I’ve just moved off the uptempo funk style but while each have their own distinct lane (Bamboos = hard and funky, KGF has a slicker, ’70s feel), both are a bit too speedy for my current tastes. Maybe that’s why the songs I did gravitate to were each artists’ stronger offerings in soul (rather than funk). Especially with “High On Your Love,” Danny Fernandez Black Wolf gets to work out his vocals something nice.

The Michael Leonhart release is an unexpectedly psych rocky/hippy poppy/soul project released by Truth and Soul who seem to be moving in some new sonic direction with this strange but intriguing release. You can find a good deal of this kind of trippy, reverb slathered, Afro-influenced tunes on the album and out of the batch, “Madhouse Mumbai,” with its obvious Ethio-jazz touches, resonated with me the most. Maybe I just like the way Leonhart sings, “shalom.”

Lastly, we have a cut off the upcoming sophomore album by Quantic’s Flowering Inferno. “Dub Y Guanguanco” sounds exactly like what you’d expect – the flirty rhythms of Cuban guanguanco mixed with the heavy bottom of dub; a lovely combo here and one of the best songs off this new album. Will Holland done did it again.

I’m ending with another forthcoming cut, this one off of Rakaa’s solo debut (due out in July). I’m thinking DJ Babu produced this one and I’m really feeling his flip on the Motown classic “Heatwave.” A fun, lively lil’ cut that lets Rakaa unleash his distinctive flow over.